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The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. [Photo/VCG]

Thousands of passengers vied to be among the first to experience a first-day ride on the world"s longest sea span, as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge opened to traffic Wednesday morning.

The bridge went into operation at 9 am as scheduled. Many early birds began to line up for shuttle buses to go on the bridge, departing from the three ports in Hong Kong, Macao and Zhuhai in Guangdong province.

The bridge"s Zhuhai Port alone had processed immigration clearances for 16,000 passengers and 460 vehicles arriving at or departing from Zhuhai, as of 3:30 pm on Wednesday.

With the first sea span across the Pearl River Estuary having opened, a journey that used to take about four hours between Hong Kong on the east bank and Zhuhai and Macao on the west bank, now takes less than an hour, with each trip by shuttle bus costing 58 yuan (about $8).

The first group of passengers from Hong Kong Port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge arrives at Zhuhai Port Wednesday morning, by taking a shuttle bus. [Miriam Zhang / China Daily]

In Hong Kong, some 30 passengers became part of history Wednesday morning, taking the first cross-boundary shuttle bus that left the Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities of the bridge at around 9:15 am.

It took only 40 minutes to arrive at the bridge"s Zhuhai Port at 9:55 am, down from about four hours" drive before the bridge"s opening.

Mark Clayton, 34, a British expat who has lived in Zhuhai for 13 years, said he was thrilled to make the historic journey.

Serving as the chief financial officer of an electronics manufacturer in Zhuhai, Clayton said the experience was awesome. He said the bridge is a symbol of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and a new name card to the world demonstrating China"s achievements.

He said his mother called him Tuesday night to tell him she saw the story of the bridge on British television. Zhuhai is now famous, Clayton added.

Passengers may take the shuttle bus, cross-boundary coach or taxi, between Hong Kong and Macao, or between Hong Kong and Zhuhai via the bridge.

The shuttle bus provides 24-hour service at an interval of 5 to 10 minutes during peak periods.

At 9:15 am, the first shuttle bus from Hong Kong Port to Zhuhai Port prepares to take passengers on a historic ride across the just-opened Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. [Miriam Zhang / China Daily]

Cross-boundary coaches serve the urban areas of Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macao. The main destinations on the mainland on the HZMB route include major cities in Guangdong province, such as Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Xinhui, Kaiping, Taishan and Yangjiang.

Ram Venkat Raman, a 47-year-old Indian national living in Hong Kong, and his wife were the first passengers to get on the first shuttle from the bridge"s Hong Kong Port to the Macao Port on Wednesday.

After arriving at the Macao Port, he told China Daily that he felt really excited having taken the "amazing" trip. He described the view from the bridge as spectacular.

Compared with ferries, he reckoned bus going across the bridge is more convenient with better facilities.

Hu Zhiqin, a 65-year-old man living in Shunde city of Guangdong province, took his wife on a pilgrimage – taking a 2.5-hour journey to Macao, just to see the world"s longest sea-crossing.

Hu said the trip was most worthy, to see for their own eyes the grand structure.

A small crowd begins to form early Wednesday morning at the Zhuhai Port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, to go to Hong Kong. [He Shusi / China Daily]

In Zhuhai Port, many people joined local tour groups or took public buses that departed at 9 am to get to the port where they took the shuttle bus or coaches to start their first ride on the bridge to Hong Kong on the other side of the sea.

The drizzle in the morning didn"t at all affect people"s excitement of experiencing the first day of operation of this engineering masterpiece spanning 55 kilometers.

Liu Nian, a 36-year-old travel agent in Zhuhai, got on a cross-boundary coach with a tour group around 10 am. She sighed up to join the group three months ago.

It took the group 45 minutes to reach the Hong Kong Port. Liu said the journey was really fast and she enjoyed the sea view.

Passengers in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, purchase shuttle bus tickets to go to Hong Kong via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Wednesday morning, the first day the world"s longest sea-cross bridge opened to traffic. [Kathy Zhang / China Daily]

"It"s great that Hong Kong has become closer to the Chinese mainland. The bridge is magnificent and the engineers really did a great job," Liu said with excitement.

Together with her 4-year-old daughter, and her 72-year-old uncle, who came all the way from their hometown in Central China"s Hubei province, Liu said they would go to Hong Kong Disneyland and return to Zhuhai the same day.

In Macao, dozens of residents gathered before 9 am near the entrance of the linking road to the artificial island where the Macao Port is located. They arrived to witness the historical moment when the mega bridge officially opened to traffic.

Passengers purchase shuttle bus tickets at Macao Port as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge opens to traffic Wednesday morning. [Li Bingcun / China Daily]

At the Macao Port, various tourist groups organized by travel agencies, banks and other local associations took selfies to record the moment.

People aged 65 or older can buy half-price shuttle bus tickets, at MOP$33 (about $4). Many in the advanced age group arrived early Wednesday to experience a first-day ride of the bridge

More than 1,000 shuttle bus tickets from the bridge"s Macao Port to Hong Kong Port had been sold as of 12:30 pm, estimated Pan Qiaoying, who worked at the ticket counter.

She expects the number of passengers will surge on weekends and keep increasing later after people know more about how to buy tickets and how to get to the port.

The 26-year-old Zhuhai resident said her job makes her proud and fulfilled, being able to serve passengers.

She has worked in Macao for many years, and also witnessed the overall process of the gradual completion of the bridge.

"Every day when I came to work, I could "inspect" the construction progress of the massive project. After nine years, the artificial island has been built from nothing, and the bridge also has become one of the most spectacular projects in the world," Pan said.